Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education confidentially paid $110,000 to settle teacher's sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit.

On May 17, 2016, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a gay teacher who claimed that he was let go from his third grade teaching position because of his sexual orientation.

In his suit, Matthew Richards, who started teaching at the William J. McGinn Elementary School in August 2011, said that he received nothing but positive reviews until he "announced his intention to marry his gay partner" in January 2014.  Shortly thereafter, he claimed that an unnamed parent falsely accused him of keeping her son after class "with an innuendo of sexual impropriety."  He claimed that the same parent stirred up other parents "to support her vendetta against Richards."

Shortly thereafter, Richards said that the principal's previously positive reviews became highly negative and resulted in his dismissal at the end of the 2013-14 school year.  He claimed "that there was a pre-planned determination to terminate him as a teacher because of his sexual orientation, with his alleged poor teaching performance to be used as a pretext."

The case is captioned Richards v. Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3990-14 and Richards' attorney was Dennis Calo of River Edge..  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Richards's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Richards $110,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.